An Old Hunting Story – Part 4
John Goes Home for Thanksgiving
Finally, Thanksgiving had arrived. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm November day in Wheat Creek. My wife, Jeanne, with the help of our daughter, had been getting ready for this special dinner for days. The turkey that I had shot last Spring was in the oven. The dressing, Jeanne’s mom’s recipe, was prepared. Pies had been cooked, the side dishes were done, and the girls were putting the finishing touches on the homemade rolls. Harry’s wife, Lori, and little Lizzy were setting the table, and the house smelled amazing. However, it wasn’t our home that smelled great. It was John’s!
We had decided that the meal would be prepared at John’s home, so when he walked in it would smell like Thanksgiving, too. When the clock neared 11:00 am, I headed back to town to pick up John. When I arrived at the Wheat Creek Golden Age facility, John was already setting out front on the bench. He was wearing a jean jacket and wore a Hunter Nation ball cap that I had given him. He certainly did not look like a man in his nineties!
“Happy Thanksgiving, John,” I said, as I approached him! “Happy Thanksgiving to you, Keith,” John said back as he extended his hand. “Are you ready for your big day?” I asked. “You better believe it!” John exclaimed, as I helped him into my Suburban. He was talking about how beautiful the weather was as I turned at the feed store. As we headed south, John stopped talking as he intently looked out the window. When we headed right at the Y, I saw John nervously rub his hands together. When we reached the windmill and the white fence, John smiled and tilted his hat back a bit.
The silence was broken by John as he said, “Turn here at the green gate.” He gave me the code and the double gate opened right up. “I put that fancy gate in, so I didn’t have to get out and open the original one, once I had gotten a little older,” John said. As we drove up the long driveway, John said, “I have always loved this place. My wife always loved that fountain, and we put that stained glass window in above the door on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Just pull around to the side as we never use the front door,” John said.
Once we got to the side of the house and parked, I helped John out. John wanted to go up the few stairs on the side of the house, so he could go onto the back deck, and look out back, before going in. I offered to help, but John refused. Between his cane and the railing, John made the four steps and walked up on the deck. From that vantage, there was a perfect view of his magnificent fruit orchard. I could tell he was taking it all in, so I just stood by him quietly. At once, he turned and said, “Let’s go in so I can show you around.” With that, John walked into a home that he hadn’t seen in three years.
When the door opened, everyone yelled, “Happy Thanksgiving!” John was surprised to see everyone, and he hugged them all. Jeanne said that dinner would be ready in a half hour, so John, Harry, my two boys and little Harry went into the living room to visit and watch part of the football game. John just kept saying that he couldn’t believe that he was home. He said he had missed the easy chair that he was sitting in and that he used to sit there and read a book, or write in his journals, nearly every night. He pointed to a bookcase in the corner of the room that was filled with books. He said, “You see that second and third shelf? Those are journals filled with the story of my life and a whole lot of hunting adventures.” He asked if I might bring him one, which I did. As the rest of us watched the game, John slowly turned through the pages of his journal. It wasn’t long before Jeanne stuck her head in and let us know that dinner was ready.
We let John go in the dining room first, and he went right to the head of the table and sat down. The rest of us, except Jeanne, found a place and sat down as well. The table was set beautifully, with all the dishes and trimming ready, except for the turkey. Shortly, Jeanne walked in carrying the bird and everyone, including John, clapped and cheered! Once Jeanne found her seat next to me, everyone got quiet, as John removed his hat. In a reverent tone, John said, “Let us bow our heads and pray. Dear Heavenly Father, we come to You today with a most grateful heart. You have Blessed each of us in more ways than we could ever deserve. We thank You for the precious gift of life, for our families and our friends. We thank You for Your wild places and Your wild things. We thank You for this beautiful day that You have made. We thank You for this meal that You have provided for us and the hands that have prepared it. And Lord, I want to thank You personally for allowing me to come back to this special home, at least one more time. In Your Holy name we pray. Amen!” After a chorus of “Amens,” the feast began.
I am pretty sure that everyone had seconds, and I think John may have had a third helping of sweet potatoes. The meal was wonderful, and the company was special. After dinner, John asked if we would help him to the basement, as he wanted to see, and show us, his trophy room. We readily obliged.
When John made it down the last step, he just stood there for a second. Looking around, he said, “Every time I come down here, I’m amazed at all of the adventures that are represented by these mounts.” John told us that he originally wasn’t sure about mounting animals that he had taken, but said that he decided to do so, believing that it would keep the memory and spirit of the animal and hunt alive forever. He said that looking at animals that had been taken over sixty years ago, and still being able to tell the story of each hunt, proved that he was right in doing so. He added, “Someday, when I’m dead and gone, someone will still be able to look at these magnificent creatures, and their spirits will live forever.”
After John had told several stories about the hunts that had put this head or that bird on the wall, we retired back upstairs for pie and coffee. I couldn’t help but think of my own deceased dad, Bob Mark, when Jeanne asked John if he wanted a piece of pumpkin or chocolate pie, and he said, “I believe I will have both!” After the pie was eaten, and we all pitched in to clean up, John went back in the living room to read one of his journals. A bit later, when we peaked in on him, John was fast asleep in his easy chair. We just let him sleep.
A while later, John woke up and came into the kitchen where we were all sitting around just visiting. After a little more conversation, I convinced John that it was time to head back to town. I wanted to get him back to the facility before dark. After his goodbyes, John said that he wanted to exit out of the front door. I reminded him that he had said that they hadn’t used the front door. He said, “I wish we would have used it more often. My wife loved that stained glass window, especially in the morning and evening when the sun hits it just like it is now! If she could have been here, it would have been a perfect day.” With one last glance over his shoulder, John left his house, for what, likely, was the last time.
Not much was said on the ride home. When I walked John back to his room, he thanked me again for such a special day. He said that today was, by far, the best day he could remember having in a long time. Before he closed the door to his room he said, “Keith, do you remember the journals I showed you that I had written?” I told him that, of course I did. He continued, “I want you to have them. I think you will enjoy some of the stories in there. However, I give them to you under one condition. If I ever tell you a story that you have already read in my journal, you have to pretend that you have never heard it before!”
To that, we both laughed, and John stuck out his hand. I bypassed the handshake and gave John a hug. I couldn’t hold back tears, as when John hugged me back, I could hear him softly sobbing. I cried all the way back to his house to pick up Jeanne.
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